By Vernon A. Williams
While it may be a natural tendency to search beyond your immediate environment for greatness, the truth is some of the most noteworthy pages in history being written today emanate close to home. Gary native Tamara Winfrey-Harris is a shining example.
She is vice-president of a major philanthropic foundation in Indianapolis. Her writing has appeared in major publications from coast to coast. She is an award-winning author who co-founded an impactful women’s organization. And as a result of being a force for community empowerment, writer and women’s advocacy juggernaut, Tamara is in demand on the speaking circuit.
Tamara’s work has been published in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Ms. Magazine and the Los Angeles Times – to name a few. Her first book titled, “The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America,” was designed to refute stereotypes too often associated with Black women in this country.
Her essays appear in “The Lemonade Reader: Beyonce, Black Feminism and Spirituality” (Routledge, 2019); “The Burden: African-Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery” (Wayne State University Press. 2018); “Black in the Middle: The Anthology of the Midwest” (Black Belt Publishing, 2020) and other publications.
Tamara relishes her game-changing capacity as vice-president of Community Leadership and Effective Philanthropy at the Central Indiana Community Foundation. As stewards of over $925 million in assets, CICF links donors and causes in an effort to mobilize people, ideas and investments that “create a community where all individuals have equitable opportunity to reach their full potential – no matter place, race or identity.”
Tracing her Gary upbringing, Tamara said her aspirations were clear from the outset. As early as elementary school, she knew that she wanted to be a journalist. After Roosevelt High School, she graduated Iowa State University with a degree in Journalism. Tamara became a copy editor for the Gary Post-Tribune but transitioned into marketing and public relations for a decade before returning to her first love, writing.
“My first writing was a personal blog that got the attention of larger platforms that eventually became a source of income—writing online. The journey was about three years before my first published work.” That path has been non-stop since, leading to her latest book, “Dear Black Girl.” This powerful reading speaks to hearts and minds.
Tamara shared, “What I wanted to do was model ways in which Black women and Black girls could be each other’s greatest, in spite of a society that doesn’t love Black folk, by approaching one another with vulnerability and love.” The book features more than 30 writings by Black women on identity, advice, family, friends, sexuality and incarceration.
Tamara somehow found time to help launch Centering Sisters—an organization that “unapologetically” prioritizes needs and issues of Black women, girls and femmes. Joining her in this mission to stress the importance of centering Black girls and women are co-founders Dr. Tyffani Monford Dent and Dr. Carolyn Strong. This provided a space for women to come and talk online and via social media as they were going through the pandemic of 2020.
Her exhaustive engagements don’t end there. While most people with similarly grueling schedules would be satisfied just to squeeze in a regular yoga routine to help unwind, Tamara took it a step further. She has completed formal training to become a licensed yoga instructor.
It’s far more than a hobby or recreational escape for Tamara. She explains, “Yoga is not exercise. It is healing and liberation and beauty. I want to share that with people who are chronically disregarded and oppressed, wherever they are. I especially want my sisters to be able to appreciate yoga because they deserve this peace.”
Tamara’s father, Joseph Winfrey, spent 31 years with Gary Community Schools as a teacher and principal. He was also a realtor for Powers and Sons for more than 40 years. Her mom Constance Winfrey taught at Bethune, Banneker at Marquette and Tolleston schools in Gary. Both parents were extremely active in the community, blazing a path for her passion. Her dad is a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and Tamara followed in her mother’s footsteps with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Parting wisdom. Tamara says, “Black women are human and valuable, and not just when we conform to the broader, white society belief. We are valuable in our own right. Secondly, many problems that plague the Black community are blamed on alleged moral failings instead of systemic inequity and racism where fault needs to be placed. Finally, people need to know that it’s pretty awesome being a Black woman. Our lives are a lot more nuanced and joyful than people realize.”
Through her writing, speaking and community engagement, Tamara is fulfilling the faith of doting parents who convinced her that she could accomplish whatever dreams she chose to pursue. Her literary genius and infectious persona are paying forward that inspiration, as Tamara plants similar seeds of possibilities into Black women, girls and femmes across the nation.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: email@example.com.